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Chinese Anti-Corruption Inquiry Aimed at Top Leaders Intensifies

By Joseph Kahn


A widening Chinese anti-corruption investigation is taking aim at Beijing’s party leaders, a sign that President Hu Jintao intends to continue removing officials he considers insufficiently loyal, people told about the leadership’s planning said.

Some 300 Communist Party investigators have been examining property deals and procurement practices in the capital city since at least late September and have uncovered suspicious dealings that implicate top Chinese leaders, the people said. None of the people interviewed would allow their names to be used, fearing official retribution for speaking about a continuing investigation into an area of extreme sensitivity for the Chinese leadership.

Among those seen as likely targets of the inquiry are Jia Qinglin, a member of the nine-member Politburo Standing Committee and a former party secretary of Beijing, as well as the current Beijing party secretary, Liu Qi, who is a regular member of the Politburo.

If the investigation results in the removal of one or both of the men, it would make the housecleaning the most sweeping since the shake-up after the 1989 protests.

In September, security forces detained Chen Liangyu, the party chief of Shanghai and another Politburo member. They also removed numerous Shanghai officials from office and arrested or sidelined leaders in Tianjin, Fujian and Hunan, among other places. Nearly all of those implicated to date are viewed as loyalists to China’s former top leader, Jiang Zemin, or as having resisted the policies of Hu, the party boss since 2002.

As such, the crackdown serves two purposes, the people told about the leadership’s goals say. Hu and Zeng Qinghong, the vice president and the day-to-day coordinator of Communist Party affairs, have sought to warn underlings that they intend to punish corruption, widely seen as a worsening problem within the ruling party, even at the highest levels.

But the two leaders have also signaled that only those they consider political allies will have the power to resist probes into their financial affairs. That message seems designed to shore up support as the leadership prepares to undergo its five-yearly political transition with the convening of the 17th Party Congress next fall.

The party leaders of Beijing and Shanghai, responsible for areas that control great wealth and enjoy broad autonomy, have traditionally served on the ruling Politburo. No major investigations of their activities are likely to be initiated without the approval of the top-most leaders.

Hu has recently worked hand-in-hand with Zeng, the fifth-ranking leader, who is also viewed as one of Hu’s possible rivals, to consolidate power. Though China’s one-party system concentrates authority in the hands of Hu, he must also navigate personal, regional and institutional allegiances that can make it difficult to implement decisions made in Zhongnanhai, the leadership compound.

Party officials said that although the investigation has mainly been directed at people considered part of Jiang’s ruling circle, Jiang has been consulted about the need to control corruption. They added, however, that he no longer had the power to resist even if he chose to.